Michele Bachmann is attempting to do what only one other presidential candidate has done this year, campaign in all of Iowa’s 99 counties. The difference is that Rick Santorum took his time canvassing the state, while Bachmann is attempting to pull off the feat in less than two weeks.
Bachmann’s bus tour schedule is grueling. The fewest number of stops that she has made in a day since embarking on her 99 county-tour is seven. In addition to the seven-stop day, she has one day with eight stops, three-days with ten stops each, and one marathon day with thirteen stops. Most other candidates are making three to five stops per day.
Nobody will ever question Bachmann’s work ethic and determination, but one must question whether the grueling schedule is in the best interest of the candidate and the campaign. On Wednesday, Bachmann’s bus tour included ten stops. The first one began at 9:30 in the morning, and the last one began eleven hours later at 8:30 p.m.
In addition to the campaigning, Bachmann also does a large number media interviews, as do most candidates. Before her first event on Wednesday, Bachmann did interviews on CBS’s The Early Show, CNN’s American Morning, and Fox New’s FOX & Friends. The night before, she did a live interview with Greta Van Susteren at 9:00 p.m. from Davenport. All of that only extends her already long days.
The campaign trail is grueling for all the candidates, but Bachmann’s breakneck pace might be doing more harm to her campaign than good. On Wednesday night, Bachmann seemed hoarse at a fundraiser for John Archer, a Republican running for Congress in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. Both Bachmann and Santorum spoke at the event, but Santorum took his time, gave a 30-minute speech, and took questions. Bachmann was as brisk as Iowa’s winter wind. She spoke for just twelve minutes, took no questions, and then had to leave for her interview on Fox News.
After three more TV interviews the next morning, Bachmann arrived to her event in Muscatine, the first of her day, 50-minutes late. Again she swept in, shook hands, filmed a 60 second video that will be on her caucus training video for Muscatine County, and twelve minutes after she arrived, she was on her way.
A few people refused to wait and left before she arrived. Some locals were perturbed by her tardiness. Others assumed that this is just how these campaigns are at this time in the race. One man mentioned that he had seen Bachmann earlier in the year, which was a much longer visit. So while the damage might not be great, what message did she send to those who wanted to see her for the first time?
The problem for the Bachmann campaign is that their strategy emphasizes appearances rather than building actual support in the counties that she visits. Once again, the Bachmann campaign seems to believe that the strength of Bachmann’s personality and celebrity is what will help her do well in the caucuses. Bachmann’s current push is not much different from her pre-straw poll push minus the direct mail, television ads, and Randy Travis concert. While there are similarities, those who are predisposed to voting for a candidate like Bachmann require substance more than personality.
While candidates like Rick Perry and Rick Santorum are out traveling the state giving voters their closing arguments and pleading for support, Bachmann is in a rush trying to hit certain spots on the map. By all accounts, she is garnering good-sized crowds on her tour, but if she is not sealing the deal with voters who turn out to see her, then her bus tour is an exercise in futility.
Bachmann might have been better served had her campaign targeted parts of the state that she needs to perform well in rather than travel to a county that doesn’t have a history of turning out many votes in the caucuses. Bachmann spent 12 minutes talking to a packed room voters in Muscatine. Muscatine County cast 1,244 votes in the Republican caucuses in 2008. Later in the day, she visited Keosauqua in Van Buren County. Van Buren County only cast 301 votes for Republican candidates in 2008. Bachmann probably spent the same, if not more, time in Van Buren County as she did in Muscatine.
It’s also important to keep a candidate fresh, another thing that the Bachmann campaign is not doing. Bachmann’s voice is already showing signs of stress, and at times, she has appeared tired. A candidate is every campaign’s most important asset, and so running Bachmann ragged is a high-risk, low reward strategy. This is just the beginning of the campaign, and while she will get a two-day break for Christmas, the final stretch is yet to come, and then the New Hampshire primary is just a week after Iowa.
The Bachmann campaign is also showing other signs of frustration. In addition to her criticisms of Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul in the Sioux City Fox News debate, Bachmann, and especially her campaign staff, have become more and more critical of Rick Santorum. In recent weeks, it’s been Santorum who has shown signs of momentum by picking up key endorsements and rising in the polls. Trailing or being tied with Santorum is a position that Bachmann probably never thought she would be in.
In the final push before the caucuses, it’s important to be able to understand the difference between actual momentum and frantic activity that campaigns try to sell as momentum. Candidates like Perry and Santorum seem to be on the move, while Bachmann seems to just be keeping herself busy. To do well in the caucuses, you have to build relationships with voters, and that’s hard to do when you are only interested in speed dating.
Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com
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